Monticello Guide Laura-Michal Balderson discusses Cornelia Jefferson Randolph's relationship with her grandfather, Thomas Jefferson, and highlights her mechanical drawings of the University of Virginia and Monticello's first floor.

Kyle Chattleton: This is Mountaintop History, a podcast produced by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello. 

Olivia Brown: Mountaintop History brings forward meaningful stories from this historic home and plantation — from the past and from the present.

Kyle Chattleton: My name is Kyle Chattleton. 

Olivia Brown: And I'm Olivia Brown.

Kyle Chattleton: Thank you for joining us. We hope you'll learn something new.

During his retirement years, Thomas Jefferson's home at Monticello was filled with dozens of his family members. Many of them were his grandchildren, and among them was Cornelia Jefferson Randolph, a remarkable woman who's artistry and keen awareness of the world around her have proved to be indispensable for historians today. 

Laura-Michal Balderson, Project Assistant at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, explains.

Laura-Michal Balderson: We're standing in the Annex, which was a bedroom space where Jefferson's granddaughters would have stayed, so young women, teenagers and in their twenties, and they wrote in their letters about how they could hear Jefferson in his office, which is directly beneath us, as he would hum and sing as he went about his work.

One of those granddaughters was Cornelia Jefferson Randolph. She was the fifth of eleven children and she was born here at Monticello in 1799.

She spent a lot of time with her grandfather, Thomas Jefferson, and we have a really sweet 1808 letter in which he congratulates her for learning to write, and he promises to send a gift of six geese to make sure that there would be enough quill pens for their continued correspondence. Cornelia did keep writing. She left behind a charming set of personal letters, which were often addressed to her sisters.

And she also left behind wonderful art. Jefferson taught Cornelia how to create mechanical drawings and she practiced by rendering the architectural drawings of the University of Virginia.

Now like many budding artists, she was often dissatisfied with her work. She writes in one letter about a drawing she had made of the reclining Ariadne statue in the Monticello Entrance Hall, but she felt she had spoiled the drawing by attempting to draw the rocks on which Ariadne rests.

We as historians are certainly grateful for her drawings today. One of the images left behind is a floor plan of the first floor of Monticello, in which Cornelia labeled furniture, art, and other objects. And this is an indispensable primary source for our staff as we interpret these spaces.

Olivia Brown: This has been another episode of Mountaintop History, a collaboration podcast between WTJU and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. 

Kyle Chattleton: This episode of Mountaintop History was made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Join us for new episodes every two weeks on Apple and Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and the Virginia Audio Collective.

Olivia Brown: To learn more about Monticello or to plan your next trip, visit us online at

Plan a visit to Monticello's upstairs

Have you always wanted to go upstairs at Monticello? This exclusive pass takes you behind the scenes: through the first floor of Monticello and up the narrow staircase to explore the private quarters on the second and third floors, including the iconic Dome Room.

Monticello's First-floor Furnishing Plan by Cornelia Jefferson Randolph

This podcast was made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.